introducing a new cat

Most cat owners are well aware of how protective of their territory cats can be. Because of this, introducing a new cat can be a very delicate situation. Slowly introducing a new pet to an old pet can take time if your resident animals are not very friendly or they’ve never been around another cat before. Introducing your cats correctly can make the entire transition go smoothly for everyone in the home and can prevent unwanted behaviors, fights, and spraying.

Bringing a New Cat Home

Whether you’re bringing home your third or fourth new cat, it’s always a good idea to  prepare for the new cat’s arrival ahead of time. Before you decide to bring a new adult cat or kitten into your environment, consider the following:

  • Do you have an environment that’s large enough for all of your cats to have a space to call their own?
  • Do any of your current felines suffer from a chronic illness where the stress of bringing home a new adult cat or kitten will make their health problems worse?
  • Does your resident cat inappropriately mark around the household?

After you have carefully considered these factors and you’re ready to add a new cat to your house, the following tips can help ensure a smoother integration, introduction, and transition with other pets, family members and friends.

How to introduce a New Cat: Preparing a Safe Space

Taking the proper steps when introducing a new feline will prevent your old cat from feeling threatened.

Step 1, before you introduce your two cats to each other, it’s a good idea to avoid contact and create a safe space in the household where the new feline can relax and adjust. This area will provide the new adult or kitten with access to a safe and quiet area that he or she needs while they become familiar with the sounds and scents of their new environment. These safe areas can be any size, but should have a secure solid door. Do not put the cat in a room with a screen door, otherwise, he or she may try to escape.

Hiding Places

Make sure the area has hiding places and shelters where the cat can sleep and decompress. Most new cats like to hide and are often very anxious and nervous when they enter a new household, so access to a safe area is crucial.

You can use a sheet draped over a chair, a cardboard box with a towel, or a covered cat bed with one soft towel placed inside. If the cat you have adopted is very shy, you should remove large items of furniture from the room, such as dressers and beds. This will make it much easier for you to interact with your new cat, since you can’t exactly bond with them if they’re hiding in areas that are not easily accessible to you.

After removing large pieces of furniture from the area, leave out a litter box, water bowl, scratching post, and a dish of cat food. The water and food should be placed on one side of the room, with the litter box on the other side of the room.

A cat that’s very shy may not eat much the first day or two and may have diarrhea due to the stress. If your new cat has refused to eat for the first two days, try to leave out some extra yummy treats, such as canned salmon, tuna, or a little chicken. If this doesn’t work, speak with your vet for advice.

Litter Box Needs

Make sure the feline has access to their litter pan and no contact with another pet at this time. If you have a dog, use a dog proof litter box to deter them from disturbing your feline while they’re using their litter pan. Using one will prevent fights and fear of using the litter box.

Use Cat Pheromones

If you’ve adopted an older, anxious cat, you can use pheromones for cats, which are designed to help them feel more comfortable and calmer. Cat pheromones are usually available in diffuser or spray form.

Offer Toys

Leave some cat toys in the room for your new feline to play with, such as balls, catnip filled toys, cardboard boxes, or treat dispensing toys. Something to play with will help distract your cat, while keeping them entertained and relaxed.

Quality Time

Starting the day the newcomer arrives, try to visit them frequently, on and off throughout the day, for short periods of time. One visit can involve interacting with them directly in the form of petting, play, or gently talking to them. Other times, just being in the room can help the cat to get used to people moving around. Cats that are scared may pull their ears back, twitch their tail, hiss, and growl. If this is how your cat reacts, continue to speak with them in a quiet, gentle voice and avoid trying to pet them at this time. Some cats will need more time to adjust than others, especially if they have a history of abuse. Have patience with your new pet and let them interact with people on their own terms.

Make the Transition to a Bigger Space

cat being introduced to a new one

Once your new cat begins to trust and play with you, you’ll notice a total personality change in them. They seem eager to leave the room, have stopped hiding, and you may find them sitting by the door, waiting for you to return. When you enter the room, they now run up to you and look forward to your visits. If your cat has reached this point, then it’s time to begin giving them more space to explore in the household. Make sure you only try this step if you’re able to supervise and continue to avoid contact with other pets. Shut most of the doors in the home so the cat can start moving around their new environment in stages. If the cat has too much room to explore, they may get overwhelmed.

Additionally, if your new cat is very shy, they may start to hide again. If you have a large household, this can make it difficult and challenging to find them.

Time to Explore

If you have two cats, the resident cat will need to be placed in a different room for this step. Each time you allow the new cat to explore, open up an additional door. If your new cat seems to be doing fine and is eager to continue exploring and wants to see more of the house, now it’s time to start to introduce them to the other cats and pets in the household. Your resident cat’s scent will be all over the household. This will give the new feline a chance to become familiar with their scent, while leaving their own scent behind for your resident cat to smell.

Feeding Time/Scent Exchange

Avoid free-feeding the cats, which involves leaving out dishes of food around the clock so a cat can eat whenever they’re hungry. Instead, set out food for the cats two times daily, at the same time each day. To safely introduce your new cat to the other feline in the home, place your resident cat’s food dish outside the new cat’s safe space, by the door. This will allow the two cats to smell each other and become familiar with the other’s scent, through the door. Since there is food present, the cats will not be fixated on each other and instead will mainly concentrate on their food, stopping to smell the air or the bottom of the door, periodically. Continue to feed your cats in this manner for a few days. If you notice any fighting or growling, or signs the cats obviously dislike each other, place the bowls further away from the safe space’s door. Only move onto the next step if your cats seem calm and there’s no fighting. If the new cat’s anxious, or the other feline is being protective of their territory, you will need to hold off on a face to face introduction.

The Introduction Process: Meeting Your Resident Cat

Now that the new feline and your resident cat are aware of the other’s presence and scent, it’s now time to make introductions.

For visual introductions, set up a baby gate. This barrier will protect both cats in the event they become aggressive at the sight of each other.

You can try draping a blanket over the gate to hide the other cat until a time when you feel ready for the reveal. You may want to leave the blanket in place the first few times you introduce the cats to each other. During this time, the cat’s will explore each other’s scent.

Obviously, the goal is to get your resident cat and the new one in the same room, without using any barriers, but if you’re still not sure how your cats will respond to each other, this step is an important one you don’t want to skip.

If the cats seem calm and their body language is nice and relaxed, you can remove the blanket. Once the blanket is removed, if one cat or both tense up or show any other signs that a fight may break out, put the blanket back in place.

The absolute worst thing you can do is rush this process. This can lead to the cats fighting.

Cats Meet Face to Face

cat meeting face to face

If the last step went smoothly, then you may be eager to allow your cats to meet face to face, without a barrier and blanket.

During this time, have another family member or friend around to help, in the event your cats begin fighting.

As you remove the baby gate or open the safe room door, bring out some interactive toys, such as balls or a feather wand. Begin playing with one cat and pay attention to the other cat’s body language. If you notice one cat starts twitching their tail, or they flatten their ears, or one of the cats looks like he or she is about to pounce, separate the cats before a fight breaks out.

If the cats are getting along and playing with each other, then you’re that much closer to allowing your new cat to move freely throughout the environment.

After playtime, place the new cat back in their safe place and repeat this process for a few days.

Continue Supervision

Once your cat is at this stage, you may feel comfortable enough to allow the new feline to move freely throughout the home, however, you should continue to supervise your cats during this time, for at least a couple of weeks and monitor the cats for any signs of aggressive behavior, before you ditch the safe space and give your new feline a permanent place to rest their head in one of the common areas of your environment.

If a fight breaks out during this time, you’ll need to start the introduction process all over again, so it’s a good idea to continue to take it slow.

Cat Care One Month Later

At this point, your cats should be used to each other. Maybe they aren’t best friends, they don’t nap together or play together, but as long as they’re okay with the other being in their environment, you should consider this a win. If one cat is still standoffish, then give the cats their own space and continue to work with them, in order to ease the tension.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, bringing a cat home is a big deal. By following these steps, you can significantly reduce the chances of your cats fighting. Instead of instantly stressing out your old cat and the new family member, you’re going slowly to ensure everyone is comfortable and feels safe. As I mentioned earlier, not all cats will become close and want to interact with each other. The goal here is to at least get the cats in your home to tolerate one another. Best case scenario, the cats enjoy each other’s company and will be lifelong friends. While this may not be possible in every situation, if you follow the tips in this guide, you’ll have a great chance of creating a calm, safe, and happy environment where the cats can benefit from each other’s company.